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CNN has a story about how, while crime usually is cited as the main reason that retailers are pulling up stakes and leaving some cities, it may not be that simple.

Sure, crime has worsened in many places, driven by homelessness and the fentanyl epidemic.  But there are other forces at work, as well:  "a glut of stores, people working from home, online shopping, exorbitant rents …. and difficulty hiring workers.

"To reinvent downtown retail, drastic changes may be required.

"That means denser neighborhoods with a broader mix of affordable housing, experiential retail, restaurants, entertainment, parks and other amenities, which won’t happen overnight … How policymakers remake their downtowns — with retail as a crucial attraction — will be crucial to cities’ fiscal health and regional economies."

KC's View:

It is a mistake to over-simplify what's been happening to America's cities, but I also think it is important to admit the mistake that many of us made.  (I say "us" because I bought into this construct and talked about it a lot here.)

The theory was based on demographics - young people were getting married later, which meant they were having fewer kids and didn't need bigger houses.  They also wanted access to the urban-style amenities, and so they were inclined to move to the city, where they could live in an apartment or condo, and might not even own a car, which would reduce their inclination to visit large suburban-style supermarkets.

A lot of things happened, but the big thing was a pandemic that persuaded people that having more space was better than less space.  Plus, if they didn't have to commute to the city to work as often, it changes their priorities.

Axios reports that "an increasing share of millennials, the largest generation, are buying homes and settling down — outside of cities."  In fact, a Bank of America survey indicated that "about 45% of millennials expect to buy a home in the suburbs."

The point of the experts to whom CNN spoke is a good one - that cities in many ways have to be reinvented, not just revitalized.

Take San Francisco as an example.  You can't just replace the massive Nordstrom that is closing there with another big department store.  You have to rethink the use of space, and the needs/desires of the people who want to continue to live there.

Another excerpt from the story:

"'It’s a really tough problem for cities and economic developers,' said Chris Wheat, the president of the JPMorgan Chase Institute. 'How do you make these live, work and play neighborhoods? That was a question before the pandemic, but it’s become more salient now.'

"It hearkens back to urbanist Jane Jacobs’ influential 1958 essay 'Downtown is for People,' in which she argued a vibrant street life was crucial for neighborhood safety and community.

"It is this model, focused on the vitality of the streets and the people who inhabit them, that’s needed to create lively and exciting communities and shopping areas.

"Streets could be blocked to cars on weekends and other hours. Cities can also host street fairs, food festivals, live music, art exhibits and other events to draw foot traffic downtown … If the future of shopping is not giant department stores, a wider mix of stores will be needed to make downtowns more appealing.

"Traditionally, retail landlords seek out the longest leases. But that makes it difficult for new stores to open.

"Cities can provide financial incentives to encourage landlords to offer temporary and more flexible leases and loosen regulations to speed up the permitting process for them.

"This will allow for pop-up stores, seasonal retailers and a mix of food and drink vendors."

In other words, a retail environment that is more responsive and less restrictive and static.